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We all have meaningful stories to tell, whether they are narratives about our own lived experiences or those we observe in others and the world around us. This doesn’t always mean, though, that everyone will or should be expected to write those stories. We share them orally in simple or more complex ways in our everyday conversations – such is the nature of socialising, getting to know each other, complete with those moments of honest revealing and/or strategic editing! But there are many of us who feel compelled to write stories, fictionalise and dramatise them, expand them, create new imagined worlds and share them with interested readers.
Over the years I’ve found myself returning to this need to record experience through words on paper and to play with the tools of storytelling. This was first encouraged by a very special city youth worker called Eileen, who looked after me and a small group of other girls when I was around age twelve or thirteen. When our time came to an end she presented me with the gift of a nicely wrapped, black, hard-back, blank notebook. In confusion, I smiled and said something like, “Oh, a book. There’s nothing in it,” and thought, What the hell do I do with this? She said, “It’s a journal. It’s for you to fill up. Something for you to write all your thoughts in, all your feelings. Anything you want to write. And you don’t have to show anyone, or you can if you want.” Well, I had known what a diary was, had seen the ones sold for children, often girls, marketed with pink covers and locks on the side, but I had never seen anything as respectable looking as this black book with blank, lined pages, ready for the taking. She even gave me a pen, in the hope that I’d use it. And I did. And that was the start of it all. Eileen, on the off chance you might ever read this, I want to say thank you for playing such a big part in initiating my creative writing life!
Fast forward to many years of journal writing, an English degree with a huge amount of privileged time spent on reading and analysing literature, writing short story-fiction, followed by post grad academic research and writing, not to mention a fair amount of work-related report writing, and here I am. I’m now in the process of approving proofs for my first novel, a family drama, part coming of age, part retrospective narrative, How We Remember, with an amazing indie UK publisher, RedDoor Publishing. Here is a little summary from RedDoor:
Every family has its secrets, and many have sibling rivalries. When Jo O’Brien returns home after her mother’s death, she is forced to confront both. An unexpected inheritance fans the flames of existing tensions between Jo and her brother, and their mother’s long-forgotten diary recalls the messy aftermath of an uncle’s sexual advances towards Jo when she was a teenager. Like the diary, Jo’s memory of events is full of gaps, but one thing is certain – she will never regain what was lost. How We Remember traces the effects of alcoholism, mental illness and abuse on one Irish-Italian-American, working-class family. Jo’s narration weaves together past and present stories, creating a complex portrait of her family’s life, one that will shape Jo’s future choices when faced with the tragedy of mismanaged grief. Perfect for fans of Anne Tyler, Winnie M Li and Sylvia Brownrigg, this is a novel that will stay with you long after you stop turning the pages.
The novel is now available to order from RedDoor Publishing, Foyles (UK), Waterstones (UK), WH Smith (UK) and Amazon (UK and USA). Distribution will be available in Australia sometime after the September publication date.
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I’ll be tracing this journey to publication and a whole host of other things here in the Blog as time goes on. This site is at its most basic at the moment, but over time there will be more ponderings, links, resources and so on. For now I’ll leave you with a little reference to a Guardian interview by Hermione Hobey with one of my favourite US authors, Elizabeth Strout (Abide with Me, Amy and Isabelle, The Burgess Boys, Olive Kitteridge, My Name is Lucy Barton, Anything is Possible) who discusses the importance of writing with a sense of honesty and a great deal of risk-taking. For me, this is what powerful, meaningful writing is all about, writing that reveals emotional truths, not just fact-based ones. This is what I hope to achieve in my work.
She goes on to explain: “You can’t write fiction and be careful. You just can’t. I’ve seen it with my students over the years, and I think actually the biggest challenge a writer has is to not be careful. So many times students would say, ‘Well, I can’t write that, my boyfriend would break up with me.’ And I’d think …” she sucks her teeth, “‘Well, OK, I’m sorry, I don’t really have much more to tell you.’ You have to do something that’s going to say something, and if you’re careful it’s just not going to work.” Or, as Sarah Payne tells Lucy, “We all love imperfectly. But if you find yourself protecting anyone as you write this piece, remember this: You’re not doing it right.”